Sugarcane cultivation: Problems and prospects

Khan Faraz

Sugarcane is one of the most important cash crops of the country. It is grown on a huge area of about one million hectares. Linked with it is a viable sugar industry which is the second largest industry of Pakistan after the textile industry. There are a number of sugar mills in the country producing refined sugar mainly from sugarcane. Also, some portion of the crop is used for the production of “Gur” (Brown Sugar), especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

2. Sugarcane is a long duration crop as compared to other cash crops grown in the country. It requires great skill and huge investment in the form of inputs on the part of the farmers to grow this labour-intensive and cost-oriented crop. The farmers are faced with a host of problems in the form of increase in cost of inputs, high labour rates, water rates, etc. However, at the end of the day the farmers are at the mercy of the sugar millers and are unable to get even cost of production of the crop and to have both ends meet.

3. It is interesting to note the interests of the sugar millers are secured in every crisis whether due to shortage or due to glut of sugar supply in the market. In both cases, the sugar millers are beneficiaries and get concessions from the Government to keep intact their margin.

4. The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) is a very strong Association in the country which safeguards interests of the sugar industry while on the other hand the interests of farmers are largely neglected by both official policy and public debate. Despite being the real producers of the crop, those who grow sugarcane are heartily squeezed in the market place. The main beneficiaries of any price increase are always sugar millers or processors. Farmers lie on the lowest rung of the value chain. If the markets were free and fair, higher sugar prices should have resulted into incentives for farmers to grow more crop. But on the contrary sugarcane production has gradually gone down in recent years.
Problems of Sugarcane Farmers:

5. Sugarcane farmers face a host of problems, both at production and marketing stages of the crop. Some important ones are as under:

i) Farmers are not made to get new/recommended varieties of sugarcane with the result that they are compelled to sow old/odd varieties with low yield and lesser sucrose contents. Thus the benefits of the results obtained at the sugarcane research stations are hardly passed on to the farmers. Therefore, the sugar mills should deliver seeds to farmers at the fields.

ii) Inputs such as fertilizers and recommended pesticides are not available to farmers at appropriate time and at affordable rates.

iii) Sugarcane is a long duration crop and needs high water requirements. However, there is scarcity of water in the canals and the tube-wells which badly affect the yield of the crop.

iv) Late fixation of support price of sugarcane by the Government.- The fixation of support price of sugarcane has remained a point of contention between the sugar mills and the farmers for years. The resultant sugarcane shortage due to confrontation between the sugar mills and the farmers had badly affected consumers and other industries.

v). Late commencement of crushing season by the sugar millers.- It has been observed that sugarcane crushing season is started very late by the sugar mills and ends too soon. The delay in crushing season hits the farmers in two ways: (a) loss in weight; and (b) delay in wheat sowing on the land vacated from sugarcane.

vi) Late payment to the farmers by the sugar millers.- It has been a common observation that some sugar mills make payment to the farmers late with the result that the later are unable to purchase inputs for the following crops.

vii) Getting of loans from the banks/other lending agencies is an uphill task which should be made easy so that the farmers get loans from the lending agencies for the purchase of inputs on time.

viii) Sugarcane farmers lack any effective voice in the policy formation of sugarcane crop. They are not consulted to defend their interest which further reduces their bargaining power compared to the considerably more powerful Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA).

6. There have been a number of sugar crises in the country starting from 1968, which crippled the then government. Therefore, the issue requires special attention of the authorities at the helm of affairs to formulate a realistic long term sugar policy in consultation with all stake-holders to safeguard the interests of both the farmers and sugar millers and provide them a level playing field. The writer is a former secretary, Pakistan Tobacco Board. Frontier Post

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